Sammy Solomon/New Market Fire and Rescue Team via AP


historic civil rights center partially burned by white supremacists

April 4, 2019
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Down in Tennessee, acts of white supremacist violence have claimed a social justice center, The Highlander Center, which was desecrated and partially destroyed by a fire. A “white power” symbol, which police are reporting was a hashtag symbol, was found on the site. Police confirmed that such a symbol in this context is connected to the white power movement. “The symbol was also one of the symbols that the Christchurch shooter painted on one of his firearms,” said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. The symbol was found spray painted on the parking lot connected to the center’s main building.

“While we don’t know the names of the culprits, we know that the white power movement has been increasing and consolidating power across the South, across this nation, and globally,” The Highlander said in a statement. “Since 2016, the white power movement has become more visible, and we’ve seen that manifest in various ways, both subtle and overt.”

The Highlander, which is situated 30 minutes east of Knoxville, is a place that provides training for emerging activists and grassroots organizers new to social justice and advocacy. It was formed in 1932 by Myles Horton as the Highlander Folk School. Through its history, the center has played an important role in the civil rights movement at-large, with efforts that took place in Montgomery, Alabama during the boycotts. It was a place where leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, and Ralph Abernathy attended training programs.

“It was my very first experience in my entire life going to a place where there were other people, and people of another race, and where we were all treated equally and without any tension or feeling of embarrassment or whatever goes with artificial boundaries of racial segregation,” Parks told interviewer Studs Terkel in 1973. “And I would like to say, too, that [Highlander founder] Myles Horton along with his staff and others there on the mountain did give me my first insight on the fact that there were such people who believe completely in freedom and equality for all.”

Additionally, the center houses decades worth of documents, speeches, and memorabilia related to the Civil Rights Movement. The Highlander even contributed to the founding of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Its destruction was a direct attack on the legacy of Black resistance and the fight for equality in this country, and one The Highlander is cautioning the community to take very seriously.

“Now is the time to be vigilant. To love each other and support each other and to keep each other safe in turbulent times,” The Highlander said. “Now is not the time to dismiss how scary things are, which makes it even more important to have concrete assessments of concrete conditions, and sophisticated strategies to build a new world.”